“When it gets to the end I gotta play it again and again”
On the surface, it would appear that Eric Church and Taylor Swift have little in common. Their careers briefly crossed paths as Eric was exiting a Rascal Flatts tour and Taylor was taking the stage as their new opening act. If there is a common thread to be found between them, it is that they are both prolific songwriters. I doubt they’ll ever write together or sing a duet, but there is one song that seems to speak for both of them. One of Taylor’s biggest hits from her recent album, RED, was a song called “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Though Taylor never reveals who her songs are written about, it’s safe to assume there is some guy out there who has no chance of ever winning her back. Ever. If you’ve listened to Eric Church’s new album, The Outsiders, it’s evident that he has cut something out of his life for good as well. Whether he’s talking about the way records used to be made in Nashville, the underbelly that is the Nashville recording industry, or someone specific, Eric’s voice on this album is clearly shouting “WE ARE NEVER EVER GETTING BACK TOGETHER. LIKE EVER!”
After the chart topping success of Eric’s last two albums, Chief, and Caught In the Act (Live), anticipation was high for his new project. Little was revealed about what Eric had in mind for this one, but waiting for Eric to make his next move is like watching the most intense chess game ever. At the ACM Awards in 2013, Eric’s album, Chief, was recognized as the Album of the Year. This is the equivalent of the Academy of Country Music giving you their seal of approval. In an article written about that win, the writer surmised that Eric had taken a step into the embrace of Nashville and was no longer considered an outsider. The writer was even bold enough to state that Eric had entered the new “mainstream of Music City.” I don’t know how much press Eric reads about himself, but I imagine if he read that, this is where he decided to make his next move. Just when Nashville insiders officially welcomed him into the fold, Eric names his next project The Outsiders. CHECK.
The first time I heard the song “The Outsiders” when it was released as a single, I was blown away by the power it gave off in its delivery. This was no acoustic lullaby, unless you’re used to falling asleep to Metallica. I kept playing it over and over, getting more excited about it each time I listened to it. No one unleashes a song like this as the first single off their new album unless they’re holding the dynamite to back it up. This move gave me the distinct impression that Eric was about to wage a war and this song was his opening shot. I was practically giddy thinking about what he had planned for this album. Looking back, I’m not sure what tickled me more, the thought of what might be on this album or Nashville’s reaction to it.
Prior to the February 11 release date, two more songs from the album were released. “Give Me Back My Hometown” and “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young” were the next two warning shots fired. Another brilliant move on the chess board. Country radio was giving some airplay to “Give Me Back My Hometown,” giving it that mainstream Nashville seal of approval. Maybe they were thinking that Eric would ease off the throttle a little with the rest of this album and give them something they could put in rotation. Perish the thought! “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young” is one of those TKOs you don’t feel until you’re lying on the mat. I can’t think of a softer delivery of a song that has ever packed such a punch. The music here won’t knock you out, but the lyrics will. This one will flat out take your breath away. The winners of this match are Eric Church and Jeremy Spillman for their gloves off songwriting.
When the rest of this album dropped at the stroke of midnight on February 11, seismic activity was reported in Nashville. Thank goodness for the secrecy of the iTunes download! Too bad there aren’t statistics available for the number of times this album got downloaded that night within the confines of the Music City zip code. Order up the champagne for EMI Records Nashville and pass the tylenol to those naïve academy members who thought their pat on the back would make Eric Church sit still and play nice. On that notion, The Outsiders dropped “Like A Wrecking Ball.” I decided not to download the album that night. Something this powerful, I wanted to hold in my hand, so I dropped my daughter off at school and drove straight to Target that morning. Suffice it to say that the speakers in my SUV got a workout on the drive home and had there been a cop following me, I likely would have been pulled over for driving erratically. Hey, it’s Eric Church! Practically in full out hyperventilation by the time I’d finished listening to it, I kept thinking that no one makes records like this anymore! Who is this guy? Members of the “27 Club” were flashing through my mind in the way they boldly made music in their time and unleashed it on a naïve and unsuspecting public. Albums from the 60s and 70s had a distinct sound to them and the music told a story. The songs unfolded like chapters from a book. That was the advantage of vinyl records. Skipping around on the album brought the danger of potentially scratching it and ruining your favorite songs. Albums were usually listened to in their entirety. Every album had songs that stood out of course, but kids who grew up during that time period can still easily call to mind their favorite albums. No one from this era wore out a song; they wore out albums from playing them over and over and over.
Much has already been written about how different this album sounds as a whole, the range of sounds found in the songs on it, and how groundbreaking for a record made in Nashville it is. In the groundbreaking category I’d say it’s like taking a sledge hammer to the Grand Ole Opry. Not to say that Eric doesn’t appreciate the history of the place, I think he’s just decided to make a little music history of his own. There are a few songs on this album that will get some radio airplay and possibly be part of an Eric Church greatest hits album some day, but its greater impact will be felt in the album as a whole. This album succeeds in turning back the hands of time to a place where musicians created albums that were intensely personal and reflected who they were as a singer or as a band. If there was a message they wished to convey, they told it through the music. Album titles and cover art were as important to the project as every individual song on it. These albums revealed a thought process that is entirely lacking in much of mainstream music today. Many of the current hitmakers reveal nothing more than a dollars and cents approach to an endgame. In 50 years no one will remember these songs or the albums they came from. It’s been nearly 50 years since we lost Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin, and yet we’re still talking about them and the music they made. Each of these musical pioneers made bold statements with their music and took risks most people weren’t willing to take at that time.
Fans of Eric Church are going to love this album. Music fans who might not necessarily be country music fans are going to like it too. It has a very broad appeal in its diversity. Credit should be given to the team of people who made this album, including Jay Joyce and Arturo Buenahora, Jr. who produced it, and the songwriters who created the pieces that make up this powerful story: Casey Beathard, Eric Church, Monty Criswell, Michael Heeney, Lynn Hutton, Luke Laird, Travis Meadows, Jeremy Spillman, and Ryan Tyndell. The quality of the songwriting on this album is what makes it the powerful statement that it is. I have no doubt that Eric Church was the mastermind behind this record and the passion he felt for the project is evident in the finished product. It says a lot about the musician and the man to feel strongly enough about something so personal to risk putting it out there for the world to hear and take a gamble on the reaction to it. At a time when money trumps all else, Eric Church made his move with this record and EMI Records Nashville saw fit to let him make it. If the music industry in Nashville is like a chess game with the powers that be moving their pawns at will, Eric Church made the winning move when it was his turn to play and won this game with the boldest move Music City has seen in a good long while. Winning a chess game requires putting your opponent’s king in a position where the threat you just made cannot be removed. I can imagine Eric sitting opposite the devil he talks about in this album, pondering his next move, hiding his intentions behind those aviator sunglasses, and making his decisive move only when he’s damn good and ready to. CHECKMATE “Devil, Devil.”
From WAY North of Nashville…..Bev Miskus
To preview and purchase thru iTunes click this link: THE OUTSIDERS
ERIC CHURCH – THE OUTSIDERS – THE OUTSIDERS